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BepiColombo is ready for its long cruise to Mercury

on 19 April 2019

Following a series of tests conducted in space over the past five months, the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission has successfully completed its near-Earth commissioning phase and is now ready for the operations that will take place during the cruise and, eventually, for its scientific investigations at Mercury.

BepiColombo started its seven-year long journey to the Solar System’s innermost planet on 20 October 2018, lifting off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. 

After completing the launch and early orbit phase on 22 October, an extensive series of in-orbit commissioning activities started. During this near-Earth commissioning phase, which was concluded on 16 December, the European and Japanese mission teams performed tests to ensure the health of BepiColombo’s science instruments, its propulsion and other spacecraft platform systems.  

On 26 March 2019, a review board confirmed that the overall capabilities and performance at the end of the near-Earth commissioning phase meet the mission requirements. 

This marks the end of the commissioning activities, and the operations team can focus on routine operations and on preparations for the mission’s first planetary gravity assist next year.

Since launch, BepiColombo has already covered over 450 million km, just about four percent of the total distance it will have to travel before arriving at Mercury at the end of 2025. The composite spacecraft is now some 50 million km from Earth, and telecommands take about three minutes to reach it. 

In the coming weeks, the BepiColombo teams will investigate some remaining issues and carry out high-voltage related instrument checks while looking forward to the next major mission milestone, as the spacecraft will come back to some 11 000 km from Earth for a flyby on 13 April 2020. 

Later next year, in October, BepiColombo will perform the first of its two flybys of Venus, the second planned for August 2021. These will provide an exciting opportunity to operate some of the instruments on both orbiters and to collect scientifically valuable data to further study this fascinating planet while en route to the mission’s destination, Mercury.

Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab